Sound advice to students, and the rest of us, about business

I didn’t envy Wellington businessman Mark Llano when I heard he was scheduled to talk to Palm Beach County high school students last week about being a global entrepreneur. At least not at first.

Llano is the owner of Skeleton Optics, which makes and sells sunglasses that compete with popular brands like Costa. He was one of numerous business people that Junior Achievement of the Palm Beaches and the Treasure Coast tapped to appear at schools as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week. Llano’s mission: He spoke at Forest Hill High School on Tuesday to about 250 students.

And what is Global Entrepreneurship Week? Junior Achievement says it’s an effort to raise awareness of, and inspire, students and young people to embrace careers in businesses, and promote global commerce and networking. It encompasses, the organization says, “thousands of events and competitions in 160 countries to inspire millions to engage in entrepreneurial activity while connecting them to potential collaborators, mentors and even investors with a week-long series of events.”

All that’s well and good except, I thought, when you consider this year’s festivities and events to promote the wonders of global entrepreneurship followed an ugly political campaign that concluded Nov. 8 in the election of a candidate who many believe eschews globalism. And it was an election outcome that has drawn significant backlash from students, including those who walked out of south Miami-Dade schools on Wednesday to protest President-elect Donald Trump’s position on immigration.

These are unsettled times among millennials, especially the high school and college crowd in particular.

But when I spoke to Llano a day after his appearance at Forest Hill, the election was not what the students wanted to talk about. Not even close.

“There wasn’t a lot of political discussion,” he said.

Instead, Llano recalled the students’ main interest, evidenced by the questions they asked him, had more to do with, well, entrepreneurship. And what awaited them in life after high school.

“What they really asked about was, what does it take to run a business?” Llano said. “They asked about the kind of people you need to hire and have around you. Most of the conversation had to do with the challenges in running a business. They had great questions.”

So Llano talked about how he got into business, and the sunglasses company he runs today. He also talked about the struggles that people face, in life and in business, and what it takes to overcome them.

“It was good to see them asking these types of questions as they prepare to go out in the real world,” he said.

And, for those who plan on entering the military, Llano, a former Marine and veteran of the Persian Gulf War, discussed military life, and and gave them advice about getting an education and choosing a career should they leave the service.

Now, had the students asked about the election and business, they would have gotten an interesting perspective just the same.

That’s because Skeleton Optics itself has some very important international connections. The frames Llano’s company uses for their sunglasses are “Made in Italy,” though the shades themselves are assembled here in the United States.

“So, yes, there is a lot of talk about tariffs, for instance,” he said. “But also about jobs. About jobs here in America. That’s the key thing.”

And certainly a topic most people can agree on.

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